If you throw the missions into the mix, winemaking goes back 200-plus years in the Santa Ynez Valley, and even the modern winemaking boom — started in the early 1970s by the Bettencourt family’s Santa Ynez Winery and the Firestones at their own estate — is nearing a half-century old now. But only recently did this fascinating regional saga get the explanatory attention it deserved thanks to the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum’s ongoing exhibit Uncorked: Evolution of Wine in the Santa Ynez Valley, which runs until October 26.
“It’s kind of groundbreaking, and it’s been really well received by all of the winemakers and our visitors,” said the museum’s director, Chris Bashforth, who, with curator Susie Simpson, tracked down most of the stories and memorabilia from the winemakers themselves. “It shows how the wine business here is really kind of a grassroots industry that’s all very individually based,” Bashforth explained. “Each of these pioneers started their own vineyards and their own wineries, mostly due to their passion. It’s really interesting to see how it evolved to where we are now, with our wines being internationally renowned.”
Occupying two large rooms of the museum, which is located in the heart of the Santa Ynez township, the information-rich yet spatially succinct exhibit features Santa Barbara County’s first award-winning bottles, photographs and memories from the early days, and even some panels describing in easy-to-understand language how wine is made. Bashforth has also developed additional programming around Uncorked, including educational wine-country panels and a series of dinners focused on each appellation. The grand finale party on October 26 will also feature lots of food and wine tasting.
“We wanted to bring in the wine community and get them to know that we’re here,” said Bashforth. “They’ve found this venue wonderful.”
The Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum and Parks-Janeway Carriage House is located at 3596 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez. Call 688-7889 or see santaynezmuseum.org.